Tennis, Running, The Inner Game, And When Feeling Is Better Than Thinking

Hi! Thanks for coming by! The Inner Game of Tennis book by Timothy Gallwey from Goodreads

Whilst running at the track the other day, I was struck by the similarity of my foot strike on the ground to the impact of a tennis ball with the racket. Either, carried out incorrectly, can induce serious injuries, so you have to learn to flow with the action as opposed to resisting it. I haven’t played a lot of tennis, but I spent years working on my racket ball game. It’s a lighter racket, a different ball, and a smaller court, but the principles of court placement and optimal racket handling are essentially the same. I noticed that the more relaxed I was, the better my game and less tired my arms were after the match, and especially my forearms and hands.

At the UNC CH running track with Nick

At the track on Christmas day, 2012, with Nick (adjusting his running shoes).

The same appears to be true of running. The softer your feet and the more skilled and relaxed your interaction with the ground, the less likely you are to induce injuries in your feet, ankles, calves, and the rest of your body for that matter. This softness, which I learned from a great Feldenkrais-based book, ‘Running With The Whole Body,’ by Jack Heggie, can only be felt. You can’t think your way through the problem, as there are hundreds of muscles involved, most of which you cannot even sense. You have to feel your soft feet interacting with the ground, whilst relaxing completely during the recovery cycle. Your feet will seem to reach for the ground, much as described in ‘Born To Run,’ by Christopher McDougall, another wonderful book on running, which is why excessive padding can impair your running skills.

I have considerable daily traffic on this site to a blog post I wrote a while ago on the issue of tennis-induced forearm strain and wrist injury. I suspect that many such injuries, which must be common, are induced by tension in the forearms due to gripping the racket excessively tightly. This will create considerable strain on the arms, especially during the follow through. Relaxed but powerful is the way to go, which can probably be best achieved by improving your inner game, in order to learn how to get out of your own way.

Also, watch and learn from the best players, how the power in their stroke comes from the whole body, whilst the forearms and wrists are relaxed, often exhibiting a somewhat spiral motion, freeing up the shoulders and permitting ease of motion and considerable power with a whip-like motion – bit like swimming really! In the movie embedded at the top of this post, go to the point 60 seconds into the clip for a great demonstration of this action.

You’ve got to feel your way there!

-k @FitOldDog


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.